10 years after, Yoruba In Kogi remember Sunday Awoniyi
It just happened that a Yoruba Christian was the arrowhead of the Hausa/Fulani socio-cultural and political organisation often regarded in the south as pro-Islamist. The paradox of Awonyi’s emergence, as leader of the north-based organisation, was captured by the man himself, when he told an interviewer in 2004: “No one can be more Yoruba than Awoniyi; no one can be more Christian than Sunday.”
Adamu Adamu, a veteran journalist complimented Awoniyi’s self description when he stated that: “Neither Hausa nor Fulani, yet he is recognised as the embodiment of the complete Hausa/Fulani personality. Here is this strange man who surpasses Fulani in Pulaku, who beats the Hausa at a display of Kara, and has retained all the virtues of minorityness in a pluralist geographical entity.”
Awoniyi died believing that the North of the Ahmadu Bello legacy, a product of which he was, was neither about Hausa/Fulani, but an amalgam of several peoples, neither based on religion nor ethnicity, but one based on competence, honesty and fair play.
10 years after his exit, kinsmen of the late Awoniyi in Okunland are quick to reason that recent events unfolding in Kogi, his home state, have shown that Awoniyi’s wish to throw his people in the deep of northern politics was out of genuine fears for the reality that the North is a very powerful concept -with serious political consequences for Okun people, who although are Yoruba, find themselves confined to the North. They pointed to the November 21, 2015 governorship election clearly won by the APC candidate, Prince Abubakar Audu, but who died before the announcement of the result of the election.
The eventual declaration of the election as inconclusive, thus preventing Audu’s running mate, Abiodun Faleke, an Okun man, from the rightful claim to the mandate (since he ran on a joint ticket with Audu) is, perhaps, viewed as a conspiracy to deny a Yoruba and a Christian from becoming the Governor of a northern state!
True, Awoniyi was better known in the public space as a bureaucrat par excellence, a thinker of profound depth, a politician of inimitable verve and panache, and a leader who led from the frontline. Equally important, however, is that “Baba” was a selfless, clear-headed and broad-minded personality who pursued the communal, public good on a global scale, over and above personal considerations.
His organisational suaveness, his gift for consensus building ensured that Okunland produced a single governorship candidate, for the first time ever, to confront a candidate from Kogi East, during the 1998 general elections, which ushered in the present democratic dispensation.
Whereas the gubernatorial election of December 1991, which produced the late Prince Abubakar Audu, an Igala man from Kogi East as candidate of the erstwhile National Republican Convention (NRC), saw him square up against the late Dr. Stephen Achema of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), who was also from Kogi East, Awoniyi backed his people in 1998, to take a shot at the coveted seat and make history.
The late Dr. Stephen Olorunfemi, as candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), put up a good fight against Audu, who ran on the platform of the All Peoples Party (APP), in the 1998 exercise, in the Awoniyi-inspired attempt at power shift in Kogi politics.
He is credited with the introduction of the concept of ‘basketing’ of political offices, which encourages a global pooling of potential elective and appointive offices, to ensure that various interests are fairly and justly served. At the height of the heated contest for the senatorial position in Kogi West in 1998, his wise counsel was instrumental to ensuring the position was zoned to Lokoja-Kotonkarfe federal constituency.
As he reasoned, Okun people cannot appropriate the two topmost elective offices in Kogi West; the governorship and senatorial position, all to themselves, playing the ‘have-it-all, totalitarian’ politics of other sections of the state, which has been consistently criticised. Since Olorunfemi from Kabba Bunu-Ijumu federal constituency in Okunland was already contesting the governorship, Lokoja-Kotonkarfe should be supported in their senatorial bid, he adjudicated.
With the loss of Olorunfemi to Audu in the 1998 governorship election, Awoniyi led other leaders from Okunland and Kogi West to Abuja, including Maj Gen David Jemibewon and Prince Olusola Akanmode, to negotiate the recognition and proper placement of the zone, with the emerging democratic national leadership.
He marshaled the argument that Kogi West and Okunland stood to be disadvantaged and emasculated in the emerging scheme, if the zone was not appropriately compensated. With the governor, Abubakar Audu from Kogi East and his deputy, Chief Patrick Adaba from Kogi Central, Kogi West was left in the political lurch.
The subsequent appointment of Jemibewon as Minister of Police Affairs, and the retention of the ministerial slot in Okunland under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, for as long as Kogi East held on to the governorship and Kogi Central, to the deputy governorship, was a product of this established template. Okunland was equally compensated with appointments into the boards of ministries, departments and agencies.
Most knotty political issues in Okunland invoke memories of his enterprise and re-echo memories of his commitment to community, among his proteges, notably Prof Eyitayo Lambo, Chief Samuel Akande, Chief S K Adedoyin and Prince Olusola Akanmode.
Chief Tunde Olusunle, Special Adviser on Special Duties to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and spokesperson of the Okun People’s Forum (OPF), in a tribute ahead of the gathering of Okun people from all callings slated for Mopa, Kogi State today, for the 10th Commemorative Thanksgiving Service and celebration of the departed patriarch, said Okun politics has not been the same since the loss of Awoniyi:
“How time flies! It is difficult to believe that one full decade has gone by since we lost Baba S B Awoniyi, one of our very best and finest from Okunland. Baba Awoniyi continues to cut the image of an iconic figure not only in Okunland and Kogi West, but across Kogi State, across the North of Nigeria and across the country.
“It is tragic for us in Okunland, that after the demise of Baba Awoniyi and his contemporary and compatriot, the late Chief Silas Bamidele Daniyan, in 2011, community affairs and our politics have been hijacked by self-serving, egoistic, intellectually vacuous buccaneers, who have wholly commoditized Okun affairs, and who see politics as personal trophies and meal tickets.
“The unfortunate event of the governorship primaries of 2011 for instance, where Okunland paraded over half a dozen governorship aspirants; the serial abuse to which issues of zoning and rotation have been subjected in recent years, notably at the level of the senatorial position in Kogi West, for instance; the present rat race among Okun people for the running mate slot, with the approach of the 2019 election, were totally unthinkable under the patriarchal leadership of Baba Awoniyi.”
Chief Sunday Awoniyi died in a London hospital two weeks after he had an accident on the Kaduna-Abuja expressway on November 28, 2007, but not in the minds of friends, associates and his own, the Okun people of Kogi State.
Awoniyi, who would have been 85 this year in 2017, will be remembered variously for his contributions towards the building of the civil service in Northern Nigeria and network of friendships and political alliances, which endured for many years; as one of the most detribalized Nigerians to ever live; Yoruba of Okun descent, from North Central, a Christian and minority who successfully led Muslim and majority Hausa/Fulani dominated ACF! He will be remembered for his last active days, thickened by organised resistance to tenure elongation project of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
He will be remembered for falling victim of the murky and vindictive Nigerian politics, culminating in his uncelebrated exit from the Peoples Democratic Party, which he helped organised and nurtured to what the ruling party became, and subsequently, from active politics.
BORN in Mopa in 1932, Awoniyi started off as one of few Nigerians appointed as District Officers for the colonial administration, most being Britons. After independence in 1960, he held several posts in the northern region, including that of Secretary to the Executive Council under the Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto. Awoniyi often held up the assassinated premier as an example of good governance, and was known as “Sardauna Keremi”, or “little Sardauna”. During the failed Third Republic, Awoniyi was a member of the National Republican Convention (NRC), and was elected Senator for Kogi West Senatorial District. His attempt to become the national Chairman of PDP in 1999 was unsuccessful. He and six others were subsequently expelled from the PDP in 2001 for “anti-party activities”, but reinstated later that year. In 2003, he became Chairman of ACF amid criticism in South and Okunland as well.
Folorunsho Daniyan, son of his foremost political opponent and kinsman, Chief Silas Daniyan, however saw things differently. He said: “As a leader, he thought the best way to get his people what they want is by aligning with the north, which he knew all his life. He has said repeatedly that it was not his fault that Kabba Province (Kogi State) is grouped with the North. For him that was his best way of helping his people and he pursued it with all his energy. In some aspect of it I agree with him because him and I discussed it several times. I knew where he was coming from, after all, I’ve been a beneficiary of the old North. So, I could feel it and I appreciate him for it.”
He became outspoken and was later appreciated by Nigerians as ACF Chairman, a position he held until his death.
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